IV.  Whenever possible, library services should be available without charge in order to encourage inquiry.  Where charges are necessary, a free or low-cost alternative should be available when possible.


Today's college libraries are experiencing the effects of our slow economy. (Hisle, 2002)  Money has to be earned to pay for the information in the library as well as the infrastructure to run it.  In a university, this money is usually generated by the tuition paid by students and donations and gifts by the public and alumnae.  A student should not have to pay to make use of normal library services.  If universities are having difficulty

covering the costs of maintaining and running their libraries, then they can raise tuition.  Most universities have special fees that every student must pay in order to attend; a library fee could simply be one more.  Students make the choice to attend a particular university.  That choice is made using several factors, including cost.  If a student decides to attend a university that charges fees to help maintain and run its library, then that is the student’s choice.  Since there is choice regarding which university or college to attend, which means it is a welfare right, then Rawls would not have a problem with the charging of higher tuition and fees to cover the cost of running the libraries.  This theory works, as Fallis (2003) states in the lecture notes, “. . . if the least advantaged have access to more than they would have had otherwise.”    


Note: If the university is a public university, and taxes are paid by this public to run the school (including the library), then the public should not have to pay fees to make use of normal library services.  If the university is private, and the public has not paid into it, then the public can be charged nominal fees for normal library services if necessary. (Baruth, 2002, p. 60, 62)


The key is “normal library services.”  This would include all functions of the library except photocopying, inter-library loan, mailing documents to students and non-students, and whatever else the university deemed extra-ordinary.  Some services are a convenience and “not central to the mission of libraries.” (Fallis, 2003)  According to utilitarianism, the library can charge special fees because it would serve “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” for the library to remain open and functioning. (Spinello, 1995, p. 19)  The utilitarian believes that it is acceptable to cause harm to some of the population as long as the actions maximize the overall happiness of the community – maintaining the library would maximize this happiness.  The library is available to the students and community; documents are not being withheld or restricted; the library is willing to take the time and effort to provide extra services in addition to the normal services.  The library is in no way abridging the student’s or community’s right to obtain information, they just need to cover the extra-ordinary expenses involved.


A low-cost alternative should always be available to the patron.  Saving documents to disk, emailing them, or holding documents on reserve or e-reserve are some options to help alleviate the extra costs for both patrons and libraries.